This is a Sicilian recipe that my Aunt Lena, who married a Sicilian, used to make. She called it simply “rigatoni with eggplant.” I didn’t learn that it was formally known as “Pasta alla Norma” until I was an adult. It was named for the heroine in Bellini’s Norma.
* Ricotta salata comes in 2 types – fresh for eating and dry for grating. If you can’t get it, use parmigiana.
Slice the eggplant into about 1/2-inch rounds (don’t peel it). Salt and drain it. Cook it over medium-high heat in a pot, in olive oil adding more oil as needed. Do it in batches so it doesn’t crowd. Cook it until it’s browned and soft. Don’t worry about a few burnt edges – that adds flavor. Move it to a plate and don’t drain it or put it on paper towels.
Using the same pot the eggplant was cooked in, add some oil and on medium heat fry garlic with salt, black pepper and red pepper. After a few minutes when the garlic begins to color, add the tomatoes. Cook for about 20-25 minutes on medium. Taste for seasoning.
Cook the pasta until almost done. Cut the eggplant into approximately 1-inch pieces (they’ll be irregularly shaped and that’s OK) and add to the tomato sauce.
Gently stir it in. Drain the almost cooked pasta (saving a cup of pasta water in case the sauce is too dry) and toss it with the sauce. Again, gently, so the eggplant doesn’t break up too much. Serve with freshly grated ricotta salada.
Michele was the chef at the Fisherman’s Wharf, our family restaurant when we were kids (the drawing above was done by my sister Nicki). Shrimp & Rice was one of his specialties. I don’t have his recipe so I had to make a few guesstimates. What I came up with was pretty close.
Sauté onion and celery in oil with 1 anchovy (or a squeeze of anchovy paste) and Cajun spice When veggies are soft (not brown), add 3 cups of stockand ½ tbsp Worcestershire sauce and stir. Check for seasoning. Sometimes stock can be salty and there are other salty ingredients so you may not need any additional salt. Bring it to a boil, add the rice and cook covered on low for 15 minutes.
Add the shrimp and the 4th and last cup of stockand complete cooking – 10 minutes on low heat covered.
If necessary, add some hot water to maintain a soupy consistency.
Fish stock involves fish heads, bones and shells. Make it if you like, but I prefer “Better Than Bouillon Fish Base.” One teaspoon mixed with one cup of hot water is all you need to do.
A few years back, on the way to a weekend in Upstate New York, we pulled off the Taconic Parkway to stop for lunch. We went to a strip mall in Hopewell Junction hoping for a diner. No luck, but there was a deli – the S and J Deli. We thought we’d get some sandwiches and eat in the car.
When we walked in we were glad to see that they had a few tables. We were ever more glad to see what kind of deli it was. There shelves were stocked with imported pasta, olive oil and other Italian delicacies. The guy behind the counter saw that we were overwhelmed with the choices when he asked us what we wanted and suggested fresh mozzarella and capicola topped with sautéed broccoli rabe on Italian bread. What a great combination. They even had Manhattan Special, an espresso soda usually only available in NYC Italian neighbourhoods.
It was a much better lunch that we ever expected. I saved their address and this became a standard lunch stop for all our trips to the Adirondacks. We were there again just a few days ago and had a fresh mozzarella, fried eggplant and roasted pepper sandwich with a sprinkle of balsamic – perfect. No website but they have some great reviews on Yelp, Trip Advisor and others.
There’s a good article in the NYT Food Section by David Tanis. He gives a brief history of eggplant and it’s use in Sicilian cuisine. And what he says about eggplant in Sicily applies to lots of Southern Italian areas – it’s a staple and used in many different ways and the recipes have many variations.